By Adam Kramer
Gov. George Pataki announced last week the primary for mayor and other city offices had been rescheduled for Sept. 25 after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center derailed the Sept. 11 elections as voters were casting their ballots.
But there were questions how the terrorist assault on the city would affect the elections for the mayor, borough president, and City Council, especially when many New Yorkers have said Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s term should be extended because of his outstanding leadership after the disaster.
“It is impossible to assess the effect on the election,” said Evan Stavisky, a political consultant with the Parkside Group. “Normally politically consultants assess the situation by looking at similar circumstances.”
He said there is nothing to compare with the trade center attack. The closest tragedy might be Hurricane Andrew, which ravaged Florida and caused the postponement of an election in August 1992, he said.
“But that is like comparing apples to oranges,” Stavisky said.
After the World Trade Center was destroyed, Pataki canceled the Sept. 11 primary by executive order and then the state Legislature voted to postpone the election until Tuesday, Sept. 25. A runoff would be held Oct. 11.
With candidates barred by the Campaign Financing Board from campaigning, there is no way for the public to assess how each of them will handle the newest issue, rebuilding New York City, which supersedes the topics before the attack — education, crime and the economy.
Before the terrorist assault Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer and Public Advocate Mark Green were leading in the Democratic race for mayor and running neck-and-neck, according to polls. Comptroller Alan Hevesi and City Council Speaker Peter Vallone (D-Astoria) were in a statistical dead heat for third and fourth place. On the Republican side, media mogul Michael Bloomberg had a commanding lead over former Bronx Borough President Herman Badillo.
But because of the way the mayor has handled the crisis there are many people — both Democrats and Republicans — calling for an emergency measure to extend his tenure by six months or a year. Many city residents are upset about the new term-limits law, which prevents Giuliani and other incumbents from seeking a third term.
“The attack is an instant issue, which moved to the forefront of the election,” Stavisky said, “but there is no way to go out and talk about it and no way to offer competing visions.”
He said there are two ways voter turnout could be affected on Sept. 25 — people will want to get on with their everyday lives and not think too much about voting, or they will follow the pattern during World War II when there was a high voter turnout.
The state Board of Elections has said that the Sept. 11 balloting will not count and everyone who voted that day will have to vote again on Sept. 25. The absentee and military ballots, which were received before the original primary date, will be counted.
John Del Cecato, a spokesman for Ferrer, said that as soon as the Bronx borough president heard about the attack he suspended his campaign and returned to the Bronx.
“He reached out in an effort to assist the rescue effort,” Del Cecato said. “His focus has been on assisting the city’s rescue effort and the families of the victims.”
Similarly, Green said the campaign was over, said Joe DePlasco, a Green spokesman. He added that the public advocate agreed with the Campaign Finance Board’s decision to stop the campaign.
“We want to encourage people to vote on Sept. 25,” he said. “But right now is not the right time for politics.”
Due to the many communication problems the attack caused, the TimesLedger could not get in touch with the Hevesi, Vallone, Badillo and Bloomberg.
The three candidates who will face off in the Democratic primary for Queens borough president — former Board of Education President and Douglaston resident Carol Gresser, City Councilman Sheldon Leffler (D-Hollis) and City Councilwoman Helen Marshall (D- East Elmhurst) — all agreed with the postponement of the primary but did not know how it would change the election.
Gresser said pushing back the election two weeks was a wise decision.
“I don’t know how it will affect our race, but in the mayoral race Vallone’s visibility has helped him,” she said. “I think people are angry to the nerve at these horrible people, and voters will come out in droves. I would love to see the highest turnout in primary history.”
Leffler did not know whether postponing the primary for two weeks was enough time for everyone to grieve. He said he would have made it a month.
“To some extent [the attack] will change all of the races and what the public is looking for in an elected official,” Leffler said.
Marshall said she approved of the postponement of the primary election, but thought it could have been pushed back even further. She said at the moment it was very hard to focus on politics.
“I think security is the most important issue and should be put on the front burner,” she said. “Educating kids and helping struggling business are still issues, but clearly there is a new issue and a compelling one.”
Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.